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Companies pledge not to hire illegal immigrants

POSTED: February 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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Among small construction subcontractors in the metro Atlanta area, Dale Jakupca considers his company something of an anomaly.

Jakupca’s Buford carpentry business, Architectural Floor Solutions, refuses to hire illegal immigrants for labor. It’s his response to what he says is a growing trend in the industry of hiring low-wage, undocumented workers to do much of the grunt work.

"I’ve seen it slowly deteriorate to the point where the legal tradespeople are pretty much being pushed out of construction," Jakupca, 55, said. "We’ve got to draw the line somewhere, or there’s going to be nothing left of this country to give to our kids."

Jakupca’s company is one of 32 Georgia firms that have taken a pledge to not "knowingly hire illegal or undocumented workers" on the Web site www.ProAmerica Companies.com, a national clearinghouse of like-minded employers. The companies that have taken the oath include a painting contractor in Flowery Branch and a Dahlonega pressure-washing company.

David Marlett, the Dallas, Texas, attorney who started the nonprofit Web site in June, said membership grew quickly to 920 companies across the country.

Marlett got the idea for the Web site after trying to find a contractor that did not employ illegal immigrants to paint his house. He had no luck.

"It really got started from me not wanting to break the law," Marlett said. "It was kind of one of those things where I thought, ‘There oughta be a way.’"

Estimates place the number of illegal immigrants in the United States at 10 million to 12 million. The 2000 U.S. Census estimated there were at least 228,000 illegal immigrants in Georgia at that time.

Jakupca pays between $20 and $25 an hour to his nine employees, who have installed raised access flooring and modular wiring at the Hall County 911 Center and Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

He says that some companies that do similar work in the region employ illegal immigrants, paying them wages as low as $10 or $12 an hour.

Jakupca says he hasn’t seen the lower wages affect his bidding for contracts, yet. He suspects owners are pocketing the difference in pay.

"But as the economy tightens up, it’s going to be much more competitive," he said. "If you’re enjoying a five-to-six dollar an hour labor advantage, that adds up pretty quickly. I would guess in residential construction, you’re already beginning to see it."

Marlett’s mission to unite and promote employers like Jakupca hasn’t gone exactly as planned.

After much media attention devoted to his Web site, Marlett accepted a few invitations to speak about illegal immigration. But he became turned off by the hate-
fueled diatribes of some anti-illegal immigrant activists, and disillusioned by what he calls the hypocrisy of most Americans. He hoped his Web site would encourage consumers to seek out companies that don’t employ illegal immigrants, but that hasn’t proven to be the case.

"That’s really reflective of the nation," Marlett said. "I think unfortunately, for the average American, even the red-blooded Republican conservative screaming ‘no amnesty,’ they don’t care who’s out there mowing their lawn. That’s the core problem of this whole issue."

Marlett says he wants to see solutions, even if they include a guest worker program. He is a realist, but wants employers to bear more of a burden, from taxes to health insurance.

"Are we going to ship 12 million people home? No," Marlett said.

Marlett is re-evaluating the direction of his Web site, and where to take ProAmerica Companies.

"We’re talking to our members to see what will be the best way to achieve that," Marlett said. "We were never in it for a head count. We were in there to make a difference."

Said Jakupca, "I joined because I would like to see our elected officials enforce the (immigration) laws that are already on the books. It’s my hope that there will be enough pressure on Congress that they will act."



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